The Mythology of Mario: Q&A With Nintendo’s Legendary Shigeru Miyamoto

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It’s like a jazz musician. You write a song, and other people may not play it. But when other people do play it, you know that you must have something good there. You’re wearing Mario playing a saxophone on your shirt. I really liked Wii Music, because I like jazz a lot. I don’t know how to play an instrument, but it made me feel like I almost could play an instrument. But given that you said you always start with Mario in thinking of a game design, why wasn’t that a Mario music game? He’s kind of the base of the formula, after all.

It’s a good question. And that’s not to say if there’s another Wii Music, Mario wouldn’t make an appearance. If we get more people to understand what’s going on in the game concept, then he might appear in the game. I don’t know. But, mostly, Mario is really action-oriented.

In most of his games, it’s about the player’s actions on the screen or the player being able to experience the actions of Mario. He doesn’t seem to fit that role of a musician for us right now. With the Mii characters that players create to represent themselves appearing in different games– again, like Mario does–I thought that idea of using Miis was a good fit. And so the user could feel that they were there playing the music….

Which makes them more connected. Yeah. OK.

And there’s a lot of potential still in Wii Music, I think. Because we’re going to change it up, a new interface is coming, and all of that.

Wow, I think that’s breaking news, then. It’s funny you mentioned Mario as an action character, but he’s also been a painter. He’s also been a doctor too.

Good point. Good point. Still, he can’t play guitar with those hands.

He’s got very short fingers.

He can’t play saxophone. [Laughs]

It’s a good thing he has other talents. When I spoke to Iwata-san at E3, one of the things he stressed is that Nintendo as a company always gets driven by the interactive concept first and not the hardware. So, it’s interesting to hear you say that the hardware is kind of how you recharge your batteries and get new ideas.

(More on Techland: E3 2010: Techland Interviews Nintendo President Satoru Iwata)

Do you feel like there’s a group of designers at Nintendo who can’t wait to get on to the next thing in terms of technology? Who see new processors and things like that as they move forward and want to explore the possibilities? Do you personally feel that way?

We are always looking at and evaluating new technology. That being said, we’re pretty much looking at some of the same technologies as every other company, you know. But, rather than the technology being the only driving force, we also think about how can we use it.

What can we do with it is where we put our focus. There’s something to be said about taking an idea and the value of that idea [in conjunction with technology]. What’s important is the ability to take that idea and make it more than itself. You can use a lot of different technologies to create something that doesn’t really have a lot of value. What we try to instill and talk to our employees about is taking that core idea and creating something that’s bigger than that idea itself.

So, the idea is the seed and not the end unto itself.

Just like the seed. Yes.

How does it make you feel to know that these games you’ve helped produce are something that families connect over or that they share with each other? Not everybody who makes a game is lucky enough to be in that position. Do you feel honored? Or is there a responsibility?

Well, yeah, there’s a bit of responsibility. I’m a player too. So I’m always thinking about the player and how the player is enjoying their experience in the game. The goal is something that’s accessible to all ages, of course, and all experience levels. With New Super Mario Bros. Wii last year, we were able to bring in a bunch of new people as well as satisfy some of our existing base.

With Wii Party, that’s another game that’s going to be something that’s going to be played by a lot of different people. And so we’re always wanting them to have fun, and we’re always thinking about the user experience, and that’s a Nintendo basic concept.

How are we appealing to the consumer? Because we’re gamers as well. And personally, I want to create something that makes me look cool while I’m playing it. When I’m playing as Link in a Legend of Zelda game, that’s something where I feel like I’m cool because I’m that guy.

You’re going to celebrate the anniversary with hundreds of people here in the United States. What does their devotion to Mario mean to you personally?

(More on Techland: Japanese Dude Beatboxes Various Super Mario Themes with Aplomb)

I’m, obviously, very appreciative. A lot of things that come out of Japan are sort of segmented or taken as, “This is from the Orient. This is East Asia.”

Right, they’re looked upon as exotic.

Right. Exotic. Where Mario is different…I don’t think people need to recognize it as something out of Japan. He’s become sort of this worldwide easily accessible idea. People like it. That’s great. To learn about kids or see kids dressed up as Mario on Halloween is something  I’m very grateful for.

Seeing as how we’re at the 25th year anniversary of Super Mario Bros., what would you like to see in the next 25 years? Mario is obviously very connected to you. How would you like to see the torch passed on? Is other people creating Mario something you can think about?

Whoa, I’ll still be here in 25 years! [laughs] I mean, there are a lot of people at Nintendo who really get Mario. A lot of people I’m working with really understand who and what Mario is. Because Mario, as we’ve spoken about earlier, evolves with technology, it’s hard to say where he’s going to be in 25 years.

You may not be able to imagine what’s possible?

That’s right. I can’t imagine it. I’m confident, though, people will still be playing as Mario!

(More on Techland: E310: Nintendo Press Conference Recap)

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